UNM Law Students Propose Animal Welfare Court for Albuquerque

Based on their research about the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence

Recent research shows a strong connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, and UNM Law students Laura Castille and Amber Macias-Mayo worked for months to develop a proposed response to the problem in New Mexico.

Their research was conducted as part of the Animal Law Writing Seminar taught by Professor Marsha Baum, who also coaches the Animal Law Moot Court team. The Animal Law seminar addresses legal issues involving the use and treatment of animals in society and offers an opportunity to explore legal strategies and approaches to newly emerging areas of law. As part of the course, students develop research papers and work on experiential projects in the community within the context of animals.

For their research projects, Castille and Macias-Mayo wanted to delve into the reasons behind a 2009 statistic that reveals 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children who seek shelter from domestic violence report animal abuse in the home.

They researched law review and journal articles, case law, related statutes of different states, and activity of Albuquerque animal control incident reports. “I conducted lots of interviews with various individuals involved in this type of court or who would be important in implementation; for example, trained counselors in animal care,” says Castille. “I also interviewed people who do not support this type of court.”

Macias-Mayo says companion animals can be used by abusers to control victims.

“In many of the cases we studied, animals had been used as a way to control their victims,” says Macias-Mayo. They also found many of the suspects in those cases were never prosecuted for animal cruelty.

The pair traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to observe the Pima County Animal Welfare Court. The Court is the first of its kind in the nation because it unites various agencies within the county to work with offenders. Agencies such as Pima County Attorney’s office, Pima County Defense Bar, Pima Animal Control Center, Pima County Adult Probation Department, counselors and treatment providers, and other entities pull together to intervene into what could be, and often is, a cycle of mistreatment and abuse of animals by the offender, and offer treatment to break the cycle. The primary goal for the Pima County Animal Welfare Court is to provide counseling for perpetrators rather than generate fines and fees.

“We became convinced that Albuquerque needs an Animal Welfare Court similar to Pima County’s,” says Macias-Mayo.

Students Present their Project to the New Mexico State Bar

Castille says Albuquerque already has the structure in place to start an animal welfare court.

Castille and Macias-Mayo took their work to the next level when they volunteered to speak at the monthly lunchtime animal law talk sponsored by the NM Bar Animal Law Section at the New Mexico State Bar. On May 8, they gave their presentation to the State Bar and proposed establishing an animal welfare court in Albuquerque. Their presentation met with a favorable response. “The Bar Bulletin announcement about their talk garnered the attention of the judiciary,” Baum says. The students were invited to talk to the Judge Altwies, the Chief Judge of Metropolitan Court, about their projects and were asked to work on implementation of the proposal.

Next, they will meet with Bernalillo Metropolitan Court judges to pursue the issue. “We really believe that the counseling piece, coupled with the coercive power of the court, is the key to success for this court,” adds Macias-Mayo.

KOB4 reported on Castille and Macias-Mayo, their research, and presentation to the State Bar; see http://www.kob.com/article/stories/S3434288.shtml#.U3OvOiiGeVo